Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s first book, Rumors of our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, could hardly have been published at a more appropriate time. A close examination of how women fare in all facets of daily life, from social security to health care to reproductive rights to the workplace, the book arrived just as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ill-fated presidential campaign ground to a halt. Though her secession was a disappointment for supporters, many of them women, it could be argued that one of the biggest accomplishments of Senator Clinton’s presidential run was to expose a skeleton that’s been lurking in America’s collective closet. Namely, that despite the leaps women have made over the course of the last century and a half, we remain an anti-feminist society.
During her campaign, Senator Clinton was the target of some of the ghastliest, most flagrant displays of sexism on recent record. These included MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ comment that Clinton is a “she-devil” who only got as far as she did because her husband had “messed around”; Rush Limbaugh’s pondering, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”; and two boys who decided to hold up a poster during a Clinton rally that read: “Iron My Shirt.”
It was into this climate, that Congresswoman Maloney stepped with her book, which said, in effect, “You think that’s bad? Take a look at this.” In Rumors of our Progress, Congresswoman Maloney reminds us that women still earn only 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and make up only 16 percent of Congress. Not to mention that the United States has yet to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee Americans equal rights under the law, regardless of sex. The ERA was initially brought to Congress in 1923; it has been reintroduced every year since 1982, to no avail.
Rumors was in many ways the natural progression for Maloney, whose calm manner and pointed tone betray her determination to communicate her message. (She demonstrated just this late last month on the Colbert Report. On a regular segment Stephen Colbert calls “Better Know a District,” Maloney attempted to explain the reasons employers should offer lactation rooms to their employees. As she spoke, Colbert took out a breast pump, fastened it to his left nipple and proceeded to pump GatorAid into the receptacle. Maloney smiled, even laughed, but stayed on point. Better known politicians have lost their composure on Colbert over much less.)
Raised in the South, Maloney left North Carolina for New York after graduating from Greensboro College. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that she wanted a career in public service. In 1977, she went to work for the New York State Legislature. Flash forward to 1992 and she’d been elected to Congress as the representative for New York City’s 14th Congressional district, representing parts of Manhattan and Queens.
Though confident in her own trajectory, Maloney couldn’t help but feel a pervasive sexism seeping in at her from all sides. When she was preparing to have her first child, for example, she asked her employer about their leave policy. “Leave policy? Women leave and they don’t come back,” she was told. And perhaps most defining were her grandmother’s two words of advice to Maloney as a young woman: “Get married.” That this came from a woman who had successfully started and grew her own business both disappointed and motivated Maloney.
Since then she has made it her mission to fight for women’s rights. During her time in office, Maloney has helped pass legislation to end the trafficking of women, to improve women’s health and reproductive rights, to expand affordable child care, to create a human rights commission in Afghanistan and to provide funding for women’s programs to combat Taliban-inspired oppression. After spending the last 8 years watching the Bush Administration chip away at women’s rights, Maloney has written a book.
—Katherine Dykstra for Guernica
Guernica: To what do you attribute the fact that women haven’t made nearly the progress that conventional wisdom says they have?
Carolyn Maloney: Well, I think in a society where you can’t even pass the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s very difficult. Incidentally, we are exactly 160 years after the very first women’s public rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, when a handful of women started it all and began the movement to make women equal.
Guernica: So you would have predicted that we would be further along at this point?
Carolyn Maloney: Oh absolutely. But when you look at the statistics you see that we’re not, and in some cases we’re losing ground. The reports that I did with [Representative John] Dingell (D-MI), the Dingell/Maloney reports, show that we’re still 77 cents to the dollar for 20 years. You know, when I started working, we were working at 59 cents to the dollar. We got a raise, but it’s still unfair. We’re still 16 percent of Congress, even though we’re 51 percent of the population. We’re a low percentage of our CEOs. We’re a low percentage of boards and being part of boards
Guernica: Do you think that the women’s rights movement has become convoluted? The first generation of feminists wanted the vote and the second generation wanted equality in the work place. Now it seems that there are a whole bunch of broad issues the women’s movement is chasing. What do you think the next big goal for women should be?
Carolyn Maloney: The original feminists wanted two things. They wanted the right to vote, from which we could work to get more equality. And we have made progress. We did pass the anti-discrimination law, Title 7, Title 9, equality in the workplace, equality in education and in sports and in all these other areas. But enforcement is very hard. Changing stereotypes is very hard. I would say that the race of Hillary Clinton was very important to this country, because it showed that a woman could win the state, that a woman could raise money. She raised $190 million. [It showed] that a woman could get 18 million votes. I think that every woman is sitting a little taller, not only in our own country, but I think women around the world watch what’s happening in the United States.
But you see we’re a country that talks about family values. But we haven’t passed anything to help family values since the Family and Medical Leave Act. And the Family and Medical Leave Act was one of the first things I voted on when I came to Congress. It was very thrilling to me, because when my first child was born, I was terrified of being fired. When my second child was born, I was a member of the city council, and in some ways it was easier to respond to 250 constituents than it was to respond to one employer. I just remember when my first child was born I called the personnel office and I asked them about their leave policies. And they said, “Leave policies? Women just leave and they don’t come back.” And I said, “But I want to come back.” They said, “We have no leave policy.” And then they said, “Why don’t you apply for disability?” Well, having a child is not a disability.
Guernica: What do you think that Hillary’s candidacy revealed about the status of women in America?
“They’re in mourning, but I think when they wake up the morning after, and you compare the records between Senator Obama and Senator McCain, that they will come back to the Democratic Party and to Senator Obama.”
Carolyn Maloney: I did a poll in conjunction with the book. I asked, “What do you think the most important advancement was for women in recent years?” And the majority, the item that polled the most, was Hillary Clinton’s run for President. Can you believe that? Women saw that as a breakthrough in something very, very important. She didn’t win. And I think another thing that her race did was it showed sexism in our society. The reports that Media Matters have done about sexism in our society and really the mainstream media called her “castrating,” they called her the B word, they called her all kinds of horrible things. And I think in a sense that it raised the awareness in our country, so that we can have a national discussion about it.
Guernica: How do you feel about the Clinton supporters who now say that they’re going to vote for John McCain in order to allow Hillary to run again in another four years?
Carolyn Maloney: Well, I think that’s very short-sighted, because you don’t want public policy to go backwards. And under the Bush administration, there have been well over 100 anti-choice votes in the House of Representatives that have passed. There have been efforts to roll back Title 9, equality of women in sports, and there have been efforts to defund the EEOC and many, many ways to roll women backwards. So I think that you have to always want to move forward. I think that there is a lot of mourning, that people are sad, her supporters are very sad that she lost. They’re in mourning, but I think when they wake up the morning after, and you compare the records between Senater Obama and Senator McCain, that they will come back to the Democratic Party and to Senator Obama.
Guernica: Speaking of anti-choice. I read about Bush’s new reproductive proposal, which would grant money only to clinics who won’t refuse to hire nurses and providers who object to abortion and other types of birth control.
Carolyn Maloney: I think what is very important about that, in terms of where we are as a nation, is that it’s not just anti-abortion; that’s anti-birth control. I had a reporter question Bush about whether or not he believes in birth control and I believe that Scott McClellan, 20 times, wouldn’t answer the question. He wouldn’t answer whether or not Bush believed in birth control. The first press conference Tony Snow had, when we asked him, “Does Bush believe in birth control?” He said, “Yes, he does.” But this decision not only hits abortion, it hits access to birth control. In the book, I write about one of my bills that says pharmacists cannot be doctors. They cannot determine what they will or will not sell, and you find that many pharmacists will not sell birth control. The movement has gone not just against the access of reproductive rights to abortion; the movement has gone to birth control. They’re going after birth control.
Guernica: The piece that came out in the Times today is an interesting take on why more women are staying at home; essentially, it says that it’s not because they want to but because they can’t find jobs.
Carolyn Maloney: The piece in the Times is based on the joint economic study that I commissioned, and it shows for the first time that men and women are losing jobs at the same rate. And so my idea is that we’ve worked so many years for equality, but the only area where we’ve achieved equality is in job loss. We are still 77 cents to the dollar. What we have achieved is equality in job loss. You call this progress?
Guernica: I watched a youtube.com video about a young man who was approaching high school age women and asking them to sign a petition to end suffrage. And of course these young women did not know what suffrage was, I assume they thought it was suffering or something along those lines, but many of them signed the petition. Are we failing to educate our young women about the women’s movement?
Carolyn Maloney: I think that there has been progress in some of these areas. We do have Women’s Studies programs throughout America. That wasn’t there when I was growing up, or probably when you were growing up. That’s a new addition to the curriculum and I applaud it. And I think that our young women are moving into professional jobs at a higher pace. The studies we have have shown we may have more women in law school, but very few of them are making partner. At first we couldn’t get into school, they wouldn’t let us in. Now, finally, we’re going to school for higher education in higher numbers, but the numbers still show we’re not breaking though the glass ceiling. For every Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton there are millions of [women] stuck in cement on the floor that are not getting up. But we’ll see where the numbers go. But so far I would say that America’s young women now are better educated and more competent and very privileged from the effort of the women that went before them to break down doors for them.
“I firmly believe that if you help a woman, then you educate a child, you help the family.”
Guernica: But do you think they’re aware of that?
Caronlyn Maloney: I think that as they continue to work they will become more and more aware of it. In my studies with Dingell, and in the statistics too, they show that some of the most unhappy women are women who have reached management, and then experienced more discrimination. I think that one of the studies is the glass ceiling one, and it showed that men and women may enter the workforce at the same salary. It’s a little too gross to give the men five times the salary as women. But five years out, when they go into management, the disparity begins and when we looked at the numbers between 1995 and 2000, a time of great economic growth, we didn’t breed the prosperity, we grew the disparity. And in 7 out of 10 categories, such as education, health, law, banking, financial services, seven out of ten women lost ground and in some cases dramatically.
Guernica: How do you think that the globalization of the women’s movement has affected the women’s movement at home?
Carolyn Maloney: I firmly believe that if you help a woman, then you educate a child, you help the family. Because women are very focused on health care and education and on the family. So if you help a woman, you help the family, you help the village, you help the country. And so empowering women is a very important part of moving, not just women forward, but the economy of the nation forward. Particularly in very substandard nations. And I’ll tell you that the fact that we have not ratified CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Among Women)… I think 194 countries have signed onto it, but the United States has not. And CEDAW to the United Nations is what the Equal Rights Amendment or the women’s equality amendment is to the United States. I think we should pass the women’s equality amendment and a lot of these other fights would go away.
Guernica: You bring up in your book that that might be on the horizon.
Carolyn Maloney: I have introduced it, and we have over 200 cosponsors.
Guernica: So what needs to happen in order for it to pass?
Carolyn Maloney: [Congressman John] Conyers has to schedule hearings on it. Have someone call him up and ask him when he’s going to schedule hearings on it.
Guernica: How do you think that gains for women, like jobs, have affected women’s roles at home? And, well, what is the woman’s role at home?
Carolyn Maloney: I think that women have traditionally—and not always in some families, men have become single parents, and have become great parents, everything is an individual situation—but usually women are the lynchpins of the family. They carry the brunt of the work at home and of being mothers and of taking care of the children. Not always. I have a wonderful husband, who is a great father and has helped tremendously at home. And I think that men are getting in touch and I think that the role that they have is so important, to be a good father and have a good career and be a good husband. But I think that as more and more women go into the workforce, you have to have more help at home and it becomes more of a sharing of responsibilities.
“We do need the support and help of men to pass legislation; it is still a male-dominated body as we live in a male-dominated culture, so you do need men to help you.”
Guernica: So do you think that it’s possible, for a woman to thrive in her career and thrive as a mother at the same time? Realistically?
Carolyn Maloney: In my research, I found that since 1979, women have lost the equivalent to one night’s sleep due to the pressures of balancing work and family. And as more women have gone into the work force because they have to, and when you discriminate against a woman’s pay you discriminate against her children or her husband or her significant other in terms of what the family income is. And so as more women have gone into the workforce, they find it harder to be a good mother and a good worker. When I go into the office, I always feel guilty. I’m thinking about the children. When I’m at home, I’m thinking about my work. So you’re always under tremendous pressure. Women feel very stressed. They feel like they’re working harder and harder and harder. And society is not really helping them. And I have a bill in that would allow us to deduct the cost of childcare. I [know] about a constituent who deducted $700,000 for playing around at Scores, a strip joint, for his business clients. But women who have to work cannot deduct the cost of childcare. So it’s very, very difficult.
Guernica: So you think it’s just a matter of legislation catching up?
Carolyn Maloney: I think that society has changed. The report that we just did shows that the families who are getting ahead are the ones where the women are working; more women are working because they have to, that’s what it takes to put the food on the table and pay the rent. And yet we have not changed our policies to support the family. The right wing goes to the floor, and they did when they were in power, and talk about family values. Well, where are they? Family values is support for child care. Family values is equal pay for equal work so that women are paid appropriately. I think the most stunning statistic in the book is that the largest predictor of poverty in old age is being a woman and being a mother. That alone shows you that the policies that we have in place are not supporting the family and the women. And when you are paid less, that then is translated into a lower pension, lower social security and a lower [degree of] security for women.
Guernica: Legislation can only gain one entrance to the workforce, say, but it doesn’t give you acceptance…
Carolyn Maloney: I think that changing stereotypes and attitudes, it takes time. As we progress and we have more women astronauts and more women in construction sites and everything else, then we’re making progress, and if more women bring suits…[Discrimination] is deeply embedded in our community, but we do have the tools to combat it.
Guernica: In some ways though bringing suit can actually work against acceptance, meaning that a women who has to work in her office every day and work with these men every day, if she brings suit, she is just making it harder on herself.
Carolyn Maloney: I think every woman has to decide how to handle it. And in many cases that was the right decision for many women. But in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, she has left the company. She has brought a suit that will not help her. Because she has left. But her suit will help other women. And the women who brought the suits on Wall Street and brought the suits against Crispy Crème and Mitsubishi and Sunoco and United Airlines are helping other women. But it is true … if you bring a suit you have to be willing to probably lose your job and to leave where you are. But some women make that choice because they’re so angry they want to. Or because in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, she was ready to retire anyway. But I think that’s an important point to bring up. I have heard that from many women. They say they just kept their eye on the ball and they just kept going.
Guernica: I was so surprised when I found that your book was coauthored by a man. Can you tell me a little bit about that choice?
Carolyn Maloney: Bruce [Corwin] is a friend of mine. He used to be my press secretary. And he’s a very good friend of mine. And now you know like everyone, they leave politics to go make more money. He’s now working for Credit Suisse. And he’s a very good friend. And I think that the women’s movement was accomplished by many hard-working women but also, so many like-minded men. We do need the support and help of men to pass legislation; it is still a male-dominated body as we live in a male-dominated culture, so you do need men to help you. Obviously, every time you pass something on the floor of Congress, like-minded men are voting with you.
Guernica: And do you see more like-minded men today than you did 20 years ago?
Carolyn Maloney: I have always been supported by the men in my life, which is why I think I’ve been successful in many of my endeavors. My father believed I could do anything. He even wrote to Al Gore and told him that he thought I should be his vice president. I do think that the self-esteem of young girls and boys is very dependent on the support of their parents, and men in their lives are very important to them. One of my mentors was Patricia Schroeder, and one night she came to me on the floor and she said to me, “Why are we sitting in Congress, when a lot of women would try to do it and couldn’t? Why are we here and others aren’t?” And I thought back and said it was because my father believed in me and she said the same thing, she said her father believed in her and thought she could do anything. And I think that our generation… my mother was the homemaker. I believe Patricia’s was a homemaker. So I believe the person who was out conquering the world, who was out fighting in the world were our fathers, so to have them come… I adored my father more than anyone in the world, but my father had more advice on work policies and how to get a job and how to survive in the work environment than my mother because my mother never worked outside of the home. So I think the support of fathers is very important.